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Heart of Darkness Historical and Cultural Background

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Katie Hatch

on 28 September 2016

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Transcript of Heart of Darkness Historical and Cultural Background

What did "civilization" mean in Victorian England and 19th century Europe?
"The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished spirits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth" (Conrad, 1).
What tone do these pieces of art convey about London?
About "civilization"?
What cultural assumptions about "civilization" are inherent in these tones?
"I flew around like mad to get ready, and before forty-eight hours I was crossing the Channel to show myself to my employers, and sign the contract. In a very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulcher. Prejudice no doubt. I had no difficulty in finding the company's offices. It was the biggest thing in the town, and everybody I met was full of it. They were going to run an oversea empire, and make no end of coin by trade" (Conrad, 7)
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 23: 27-28
What symbolism does this image hold? What does it indicate about Marlow's attitudes? How much do we acknowledge prejudice? Tolerance? What should we make of his awareness, "Prejudice no doubt."
What is this "it"? Does it have multiple or deeper meanings? What was Marlow's relationship with "it"? What is Marlow's relationship with "it"?
"Girl! What? Did I mention a girl? Oh, she is out of it--completely. They--the women I mean--are out of it--should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse" (Conrad, 44).
In what ways is this "beautiful world" problematic or complicated?
Is it real?
Does it matter if its real?
Why does reality need to be acknowledged?
How does our modern world--your world--resemble that “beautiful world” that must be preserved at all costs?
What is the "heart of darkness"?

What is "civilization"?
What relationship exists between darkness & civilization?
...but whose tone is this? Who is the speaker? What role does this speaker have in the narrative structure?
So is the first speaker prejudiced? Is Marlow? Is Joseph Conrad? To what extent does the novella carry cultural imperialism? To what extent is it criticizing such attitudes?
Is it just women who have an idealized vision of what the world is? Does Marlow? Does the first speaker? Does Kurtz?
"It's queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset" (Conrad, 10)
Sir John Everett Millais, Hearts are Trumps, 1872
Henry Wyatt, Vigilance 1835,
John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885
Frank Huddlestone Potter, Girl Resting at a Piano
Philip Hermogenes Calderon, The Siesta, 1866
James Tissot, Portsmouth Dockyard, 1877
Claude Monet painted an even larger series of paintings from 1900-1905 of the Palace of Westminster--the British houses of Parliament.
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